Editor’s Note: This story was originally published after the MLB Draft and features a written and podcast version of my interview with Tennessee Baseball Head Coach Tony Vitello.
The Chicago White Sox entered Wednesday night’s draft in need of left-handed pitching, and they got just that with their first-round selection of Tennessee southpaw, Garrett Crochet.
The six-foot-six southpaw, Crochet was ranked as the No. 11 overall draft prospect by Baseball America, No. 10 overall by MLB.com, and No. 16 overall by D1Baseball.com for 2020 following a strong 2019 season.
As a sophomore, Crochet made 18 appearances — and six starts — for Tennessee. He finished the year with five wins which was third-most on the team and was second on the team with 81 strikeouts in 65 innings of work (11.2 K/9). Crochet had a 4.02 ERA in 2019, but his stuff was good enough to move him into the weekend rotation.
“Good luck hitting him,” is what SEC-rival Vanderbilt’s skipper Tim Corbin had to say about Crochet on Wednesday night’s MLB Network draft coverage. “If you’re left-handed, you’re in trouble. If you’re right-handed, you’re in trouble. I do know in talking to our hitters, the ball is very dark downstairs. He throws a fastball that’s very heavy. It works in the lower quadrants of the zone. He’s got a good breaking ball, and there’s a changeup too.”
When you watch the film, it’s not hard to see what Corbin is talking about. His high arm slot and long arm action allow him to hide the ball very well, making it tough for opposing hitters to get a beat on him.
Crochet offers a fastball in the upper 90s, a 60-grade changeup, and an 82-85 mph slider with an above-average spin rate. Crochet’s biggest knock is the lack of track record with his overpowering stuff and his command. He had a BB/9 rate of 3.3 in his 132 innings at Tennessee.
On May 17, 2019 Crochet took a liner to the face, breaking his jaw and requiring surgery the following day. Just two weeks later, Crochet was back on the mound, tossing 2.1 scoreless innings with four strikeouts to help lead the Vols to their first NCAA Tournament win since 2005.
His resilience resonated with his former teammates and coaches at Tennessee.
“You’re not surprised by it because he’s such a talent, but (assistant coach Frank Anderson) said it a million times and I agreed with him, we just didn’t know what we were going to get,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “He’s a tough kid. Everybody sees the frame and the stuff, but he’s really grown as a person and a pitcher and it’s really exciting to be around him.”
Crochet had a limited showing this spring missing time at the start of the season due to shoulder soreness and then losing the rest of the season to the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after making his season debut on March 7. Crochet tossed 3.1 innings against Wright State, striking out six of the 12 hitters he faced while walking none and allowing just two hits.
I’ve found that his 2020 injury has been called both “shoulder soreness”, and “upper back soreness”, but either way there’s nothing to indicate that it’s a chronic issue. Crochet said after his lone appearance against Wright State in 2020, that he felt good — and he looked good too.
Many have made the immediate comparison between Crochet and former White Sox ace, Chris Sale already. MLB Network analyst Al Leiter even compared the two southpaw’s deliveries side-by-side on Wednesday night’s coverage of the 2020 MLB Draft on MLB Network.
When asked about the comparisons to Sale, Crochet had this to say to the media on Wednesday night, “I definitely see the similarities and actually when I was developing my slider I kind of tried to shape it the same way that his is so he was definitely a mentor for me that I kind of viewed from social media platforms and just watching as he played,”.
After being taken 13th overall by the White Sox in the 2010 MLB Draft, sale made four appearances at High-A Winston-Salem before being promoted to Triple-A. Sale racked up a whopping 15 K’s in 6.1 innings of work with Charlotte and was promoted to Chicago to join the bullpen.
“I feel like it’s kind of tough to make on me as I have not achieved anything as close to Chris [Sale] has achieved, but it’s definitely nice to hear and nice to see,” Crochet said.Garrett Crochet on the comparisons being drawn between Chris Sale and himself.
MLB Network’s Jim Callis said that Crochet might have a similar path to the majors with the White Sox. “They drafted (Sale) and they said, ‘Look, if you pitch well in the minors, you can come to contribute in a pennant race,’ and he did that,” Callis said. “Chris Sale began his career as a reliever before going to a starter. The White Sox are looking to contend this year. I don’t see why you couldn’t do that.”
Obviously, there will be a slight difference in the two’s paths to Chicago, as there will not be a minor league season in 2020, and Crochet has only thrown 3.1 competitive innings this year.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred guaranteed a 2020 MLB season on Wednesday night, whether it’s a long season by way of an agreement by the league and the players, or a shorter mandated season by Manfred. “I can tell you unequivocally that we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” Manfred told ESPN’s Karl Ravech.
Whether there’s games in 2020 or not, and regardless of the White Sox’s plans for Crochet’s path to the majors, I was extremely disappointed in new scouting director Mike Shirley’s initial assessment of Crochet on Wednesday night.
According to James Fegan of The Athletic, Shirley said the White Sox view Crochet at a No. 3 starter, “with some hope for more.”
You’re telling me that you spent the No. 11 pick on a kid that you see a ceiling of a No. 3 starter? Don’t get me wrong, I like Crochet and I think that if he turned out to be a solid middle of the rotation starter during a competitive window I’d be thrilled, but I was taken back by Shirley’s comments on their first-rounder.
It just didn’t sound great to the masses on draft night. Not when there are other premium arms on the board, in a draft that’s absolutely loaded with pitching. Regardless of the P.R. hiccup, the White Sox’s pick of Crochet at No. 11 was a solid one for my money, and I’m excited to see him develop his command and get some consistent work in.
Former Colorado Rockies GM — and current MLB Network analyst — Dan O’Dowd said something that I really liked last night. He said that with the limited number of selections in this particular draft, teams will not miss on the talent of their picks. The harder part — the part that no amount of Zoom conferences can answer — is the intangibles. Intangibles that will decide whether or not each player will reach their potential.
All indications point to Crochet having those intangibles, especially if you ask his former Tennessee teammates, “That guy is a dog,” junior shortstop Ricky Martinez said. “When he’s out there, he’s kind of in a different mode, so to have him out there throwing for us definitely gave the team some confidence.”
Time will tell, but early returns have me confident that Crochet will end up being a solid contributor or the White Sox one day soon.